Popular Science Monthly/Volume 50/November 1896/Scientific Literature

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Scientific Literature.

The vivisection question has not yet created nearly as much stir in America as it has in England, where it has long been a rival of the Deceased Wife's Sister controversy as a provoker of agitation and rhetorical discharges. It has, however, recently come into view here through an attempt to induce Congress to pass a bill imposing severe restrictions on vivisection in the District of Columbia. For the reason above stated England is our chief source of literature on the subject, and in a little book by Sir Benjamin Ward Richardson[1] which comes opportunely to hand, we have a calm and philosophical examination of the main question at issue. Each of Sir Benjamin's chapters is a reply to one of nine questions submitted to him from the Leigh-Brown Trust, which holds an endowment for a biological institution from which painful experiments are to be excluded, hence the scope of the book is somewhat limited. The first question propounded to him is, "In view of the difference of organization between man and the lower animals, do you consider that painful experiment has played any indispensable part in the study of medical substances and methods for the cure of disease?" He answers this in the negative; "because," he says, "if what has seemed to be indispensable had never been thought of, some other plan equally good would or might have led to the same results." Yet he holds that every experiment hitherto performed for the prevention or cure of such a disease as cancer has been justifiable. Hence his complete answer is, briefly, "Experiment may be expedient, it is not indispensable." The second question asks about anæsthesia in particular the same that the first does about all medical substances. Sir Benjamin answers with an unqualified negative; but as he has made a special study of anæsthetics, having tested so many as twenty-nine, he goes on to give a brief history of anæsthesia and then to point out some still unfilled wants in this field. In answering the question, "Do you approve of the instruction of students by means of experimentalism on living animals?" he states that he taught physiology in a medical school for many years without experiments and his classes got on well. Afterward he introduced a few experiments, which were rendered painless, and found that they required so much time as to crowd out other subjects; that two students rarely saw the phenomena in the same way; and that some students were led to give undue attention to the matters that were illustrated experimentally. He therefore abandoned the experiments. The eighth question relates to legal restrictions on vivisection. It appears that there is a license law in England similar to what the American vivisection prohibitionists are trying to have enacted for the District of Columbia. Sir Benjamin condemns it utterly. He says that "it prevents men of really original mind from working out valuable original inquiries. Men like William Harvey, Thomas Willis, John Hunter, or Wilson Philip could never have worked under it." Further, that most of the objections to it "are minor when compared with the demoralizing and degrading action of the law upon the noble profession of medicine. This law places the professors of medicine in the same position as the licensed publican, and for the same reason." And again, "it tempts weak men to weak practices; increases the number of experimentalists; makes experiments all but useless, and does not limit cruelty." There are, however, some restrictions to which Sir Benjamin has no objection.


Such laws are mainly advocated by the various "humane societies," and we turn to documents issued by several such societies to learn their positions on the question. The Thirtieth Annual Report of The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, of New York, shows that the efforts of that society in 1895 were restricted to stopping and remedying maltreatment of horses and other domestic animals. Vivisection is not mentioned. A letter to its secretary asking the position of the society on this matter has brought no response. A pamphlet on Work Accomplished by the Toronto Humane Society during 1887-91 shows that this society has covered a wider field. It has labored against abuse of beasts of burden, cruelty in the transportation of live stock, overloading horse cars, improper horseshoeing, the use of the check-rein and burr-bit, killing insect-eating birds and robbing their nests, killing birds for women's hats, clipping horses and docking their tails, cutting dogs' ears and tails, trap-shooting of pigeons and other birds, matches for cock and dog fighting, bleeding live calves periodically, plucking live fowls, and dehorning cattle. This society also protects children. Here, again, is no mention of vivisection. If these aims are not sufficient for any humane society it might add efforts against the slaughter of seals and other animals for their furs, robbing eider ducks' nests of down, killing small game birds which yield insignificant food supplies, caponizing cockerels, gelding horses without anæsthetics, hunting solely for amusement, especially where the birds or animals are bred for the purpose, the prolonged process of killing food animals required by the Hebrew theology, deserting or "losing" cats by families changing their residences, and confining animals in menageries so that they sicken and die prematurely. These things, as well as those previously mentioned, have not, like vivisection, the purpose of increasing knowledge, but cater only to the appetite, the vanity, the amusement, or the over-exacting convenience of men and women. The American Humane Association is one society that has busied itself with vivisection. It has been taking a census of opinions from clergymen, authors and editors, educators, and physicians of over fifteen years' practice—more than two thousand in all—by sending out statements of four differing views from which a choice could be made. Its replies from clergymen and authors carry little weight, as presumably none of these gentlemen ever saw a vivisection; and those from educators, excepting what teachers of biology there might be among them, are scarcely better. Only the physicians can be presumed to know what they were talking about, and of these there were for vivisection without restriction, 220; for vivisection when restricted to useful ends and under careful supervision, 513; for vivisection restricted and supervised by law, if it be without pain, 186; for the total prohibition of vivisection, 207; obscure or evasive, 24; total, 1,150. It thus appears that there is a wholesome difference of opinion on this subject among mature physicians, but that more of them favor vivisection as reputable men of science would voluntarily conduct it than any other of the four views. It is creditable to the reason of the persons of other occupations consulted that this group is largest in each class. The hill which is now awaiting the attention of Congress is meddlesome and impracticable. As shown by Dr. Charles W. Dabney, Jr., Assistant Secretary of Agriculture, in a letter to Senator McMillan, it would seriously hamper the researches of the United States Bureau of Animal Industry, and it has been condemned, among other societies, by the American Medical Association, the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States, the National Academy of Sciences (which was founded to advise the Government on scientific matters), the Association of American Medical Colleges, the Association of American Physicians, the Medical Society of the District of Columbia, the Joint Commission of the Scientific Societies of Washington (and several of these societies separately), and the American Academy of Medicine. The greatest mischief of such a law is that it would be used as a precedent for similar laws in the several States, and, what the vivisection prohibitionists incautiously avow, as an "entering wedge" to bring in more drastic measures. America is in a fair way to make vivisection literature of its own.


Our present knowledge of the ice age affords an admirable example of reconstructing the past from the present as practiced by geologists. The process by which this reconstruction is effected, the facts relied upon, and the reasoning employed in it are given especial prominence in the recent volume on Ice Work, by Prof. T. G. Bonney[2] In order to show us what glaciers are and how they act, the author takes us first to the Alps. He points out the lines of débris and the occasional large bowlders carried by the frozen streams, and describes the moraines, giants' kettles, and other traces left by them. Going down the valleys below their present limits, he shows how deposits and marks of erosion testifying to their former greater extent can be identified. Such marks and deposits are found in other lands hundreds of miles from existing ice streams or any mountains that seem adequate to send forth glaciers of great extent. An ice sheet stretching across a continent must be assumed to account for these phenomena, and Prof. Bonney next shows us the ice fields of Greenland and the antarctic lands as evidence that this assumption is warranted. Leaving existing examples of glacial action, our author draws attention to various traces of the Glacial Epoch—lake basins, the parallel roads of Glenroy, eskers,etc. In dealing with phenomena whose meaning is not settled, he has first set forth the facts and then has given the leading rival interpretations of these data, pointing out in what particulars each seems to him strong and in what weak. Traces of ice work are numerous in the British Isles, and nearly one third of the volume is devoted to descriptions of them. In the northeast of England there are the Cromer till, contorted drift, and upper bowlder clays on the Norfolk coast, and similar deposits in Yorkshire, especially in the vicinity of Flamborough Head. In the northwest the Cumbrian Mountains and the adjacent lofty fells of the Pennine range obviously have been occupied by glaciers, and the mountainous part of North Wales affords evidence of similar import. The detached mountainous mass of Moel Tryfaen presents an interesting study for the glacialist, and there is a remarkable inland deposit of sand, shells, and bowlders, quite recently discovered, at Gloppa, near Oswestry. The midland counties also have their bowlder clays, and deposits extend southward to the neighborhood of London. Four chief sources of streams of bowlders are recognized in Great Britain—Kirkcudbrightshire, the English lake district, Wasdale Crag, and the Arenig region of North Wales, each of which is briefly described. Our author next presents the two rival theories as to how Great Britain received its glacial deposits—one that they were dropped from ice floes floating over the land while it was temporarily submerged, the other that they were dragged on to it by an ice sheet moving over it while it was at or about its present level. After referring briefly to evidence in Scotland and Ireland, Prof. Bonney proceeds to describe ice work in Europe and other parts of the world. For America he gives only the limits and the general character of the traces of glacial action, referring to Dr. G. F. Wright's book in the same series for fuller details. A large number of his illustrations, however, are from American sources. The four remaining chapters are devoted to theoretical questions. Here are discussed the fall in mean annual temperature required for the Glacial Epoch, the possible causes of such a climatal change, and whether there was more than one age of ice. The closing chapter presents some general principles of interpretation of glacial phenomena.


  1. Biological Experimentation. By Sir Benjamin Ward Richardson, M. D., F. R. S. Pp. 170, 16mo. London: George Bell & Sons; New York: The Macmillan Co. Price, $1.
  2. Ice Work, Present and Past. By T. G. Bonney. International Scientific Series. Volume 74. Pp. 295, 12mo. New York: D. Appleton & Co. Price, $1.50. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co.